I want to see people make cool shit with code.
It doesn’t take a computer science degree or the fastest computer to make something awesome with code. But before people can really experiment with programming, they need to learn the syntax. Before you can freestyle you have to speak the language. That’s sorta true with spoken languages, but even more true with programming languages.
Intro to js workshops held in Seattle, WA.
Because learning as a group in person can often be the best way to learn. The workshops last 4 hours, and are a great way to get started programming, even if you’ve never written a single line of code before.
You can learn more at http://codetutor.org.
Sign up to be notified when the book is released at http://leanpub.com/learnjs.
Local wikis are special.
When I browse through sites like DavisWiki, TriangleWiki, or ArborWiki, I feel like I know where I would go to eat, what groups I would want to be involved in, what neighborhoods I would want to live in. I read through the pages like I’m discovering the solved mysteries of another civilization that I otherwise never could have understood.
I feel like I can get to know those cities through their wikis.
I get a sense of the amazing depth and breadth of knowledge people have about the place they live.
I want to know my city – Seattle, WA – the same way. So I’m making a wiki.
A local wiki that is personal and community-authored can provide needed depth and context to a city’s media landscape. A wiki for Seattle can augment the resources currently available, serve as glue between disparate sources of information, and help build a community of citizen journalists through meetups and other events. SeattleWiki is a shared, Creative Commons resource that anyone can contribute to and benefit from as they work on their own news and community projects.
SeattleWiki should be like a combination of a personal guidebook and a weird encyclopedia – documentation of the issues, communities, and curiosities of Seattle, recorded by citizens of Seattle.
Wait, why not use Wikipedia?
Wikipedia is arguably the most supremely awesome wiki because of its size, but it does not solve all problems related to collaborative archival of information. Wikipedia (surprisingly) has editorial limits to its content and issues with the usability of its editing tools (wiki markup can be hard).
Wikipedia is an information hero on a global scale, but Wikipedia is not the One Wiki To Rule Them All.
And there can never really be One Wiki To Rule Them All, right? Same as how the internet can’t just be one network node, and there will never just be one place to find funny cat pictures.
There are instances where we don’t need a monolithic resource, where instead we need a loosely distributed network of resources that we can choose from based on the needs of the moment.
And when I’m in Seattle neighborhoods like Fremont or the University District, looking for secrets, food, and other fun stuff, Wikipedia isn’t about to help.
There are Wikipedia policies that tend to exclude the type of content we’re looking for on a local wiki:
Effectively documenting the locations around town that have the best wireless and plug-ins requires that you do some original research.
You could review streets in Seattle based on their beauty, resources, and livability, but if you do so with a neutral point of view it might not be useful. SeattleWiki wants you to share your point of view.
Why do we need a wiki if Google exists?
We might be able to find stuff like the above examples by searching around on Google, or asking buds on Facebook or Twitter, but sometimes that just doesn’t work.
Blogs go defunct and get deleted, tweets get lost, Facebook profiles get deactivated, local news organizations fail to archive and provide access to their content in useful ways.
But SeattleWiki won’t go away. A local wiki can be a lasting, reliable resource that provides information of utility and entertainment, a guide to neighborhoods that can convey history and current goings-on in one place, with references to the rest of the online resources that are helpful.
In the ever-changing and unpredictable environment of the internet, a local wiki is a commitment to telling the story of a city, to documenting the history of a place and its residents as it happens. A local wiki is a group of neighbors dedicated to sharing with each other the information they need to know to make decisions in their daily lives, whether those decisions involve voting in elections, listening to local bands, or figuring out where the best place to park a car is in any given neighborhood.
Why a new wiki and not just use seattle.wikia.com?
The biggest problem with it: it’s wikia.com. It’s an existing site that has some good content, but it gets only occasional updates, and the commercial nature of Wikia makes it unappealing for a community project like a local wiki.
Wikia has a lot of ads, features, and design elements that clutter the pages and distract from the wiki content.
The best answer might be contacting the people that started and maintain seattle.wikia.com and finding out how we can work together. If the original authors become interested in teaming up, or even transitioning over to using SeattleWiki.net, that could work out really well. The content on wikia.com is licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike, so there shouldn’t be a problem with that solution.
So what makes SeattleWiki special?
SeattleWiki.net is built with LocalWiki, an open-source Django project started by founders of the super-awesome DavisWiki.
LocalWiki’s mapping system is one of the best reasons to use it for a locally-focused wiki. It’s really easy to map the location of something. LocalWiki also has a great json api that can easily be used by other apps, and the developers are hugely helpful to communities working on setting up a project with the LocalWiki software.
LocalWiki received a grant from the Knight Foundation, ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, and the software is based on the developers’ experiences creating DavisWiki.
LocalWiki is also the best looking and easiest to use wiki software I’ve ever seen. It’s fun. And perfect for documenting all the intimate details of a neighborhood that residents care about.
But there’s more to it than software.
What will really make SeattleWiki special: the insight and knowledge of the residents who choose to contribute.
We need animated gifs, image macros, and videos of the wonders and oddities of the city. We need descriptions of all the covered outdoor areas with plugins so we know where to work on our laptops outdoors. We need detailed parking information for cars and bikes, restaurant recommendations for people with dietary restrictions, guides for going on public art walking-tours. And more.
The immense scope of the project is intimidating, but also inspiring. Each Seattle neighborhood could have hundreds of pages describing all the details compelling enough to share with others.
The goal is to reach 1000 pages, then publicly launch the site with a release party.
The more people get involved, the sooner we can launch.
You should help.
“It would be funny if journalists were more like musicians and got signed to labels.”
That’s what I was thinking earlier, and I kinda giggled at it.
But then realized that book publishing is already somewhat similar.
Big, corporate record labels and book publishers aren’t really the model I’m thinking of – more like small press book publishers and indie music labels. And then I thought: “Huh, why isn’t there something like that for mobile applications?” Oh yeah, duh: startup accelerator programs. Huh.
So maybe it’s like this:
A news team proves their knowledge, skills, and abilities by developing a demo application and blog. They sign a contract with a news organization to provide a certain number of applications, books, or films and maintain a certain level of blogging activity.
The news organization provides a retainer, ad revenue percentage, and royalties on product sales, as well as mentors, office space, equipment, seed money for projects, and other resources.
The news organization would encourage – or require – each news team to work in the open, to release source code of their projects, and to contribute to existing open source projects when possible.
After getting this far with the idea, I realized that I’m almost describing Code for America.
Code for America is a little bit like a news organization that focuses on government data, and mostly on city data, and they have more of a focus on technology than news. CfA is a low-level organization, one that can enable other organizations to use their open-source technology for a myriad of purposes.
Another similarity: the Knight News Challenge. Like CfA, the News Challenge is primarily about the development of new open-source projects than it is about funding a news team to produce content.
The Philadelphia Experiment is also very similar to what I’m looking for: a downsized newspaper offers cheap rent in their office building in exchange for collaboration on apps that startup tech companies are building. Awesome.
Spot.us is somewhat similar, but it’s more like a Kickstarter for individual stories.
J-Lab had a program called New Voices that offered grants to non-profit news organizations. It’s probably the closest I’ve found to the model I’m thinking about, but it ended in 2010.
Are there other examples?
What if there were an organization that offered seed funding and office space to journalism teams that focus equally on content and technology?
Would investing in a news team using a record label or book publisher model make sense?
Or – following the model of accelerator programs like Y Combinator and TechStars – would each news team be an individual company, and the larger organization would provide seed funding in exchange for equity?
Either model could work, and maybe offering both programs would be possible. Maybe a news team would start out with a deal to release an application the same way bands make deals to release an album. Successful news teams with app contracts are then offered seed funding in exchange for equity.
So this big news organization – let’s call it a news accelerator – it exists to give content/tech teams that focus on news a chance to produce work that can’t be done part-time while working other jobs. A news accelerator would be looking for teams with technological, information gathering, community building, and storytelling skills.
A news accelerator program might set aside some funds for teams that focus on the city or region that it is based in, and some for national or international reporting.
Teams would release versions of the software they build as open source, and their content would be released under the Creative Commons license.
Teams might build applications with paid subscription options, they could create books, films, or games that could be sold or subscribed to, and they could sell advertising. The teams and the news accelerator would share the revenue.
This sounds pretty great – it’s something I would apply to – so how does it happen?
Who creates it?
I just made a website for the dirt & the water, a set of fiction stories I’ve been working on for a few years.
In the future there will be a lot more going on with this site. I’ll post updates. For now, let me know what you think about the story.
I no longer work at The Evergreen State College.
For three years I worked as the associate advisor to Evergreen’s student newspaper, Cooper Point Journal. I advised students on web development, social media, journalism, computer and software use, design, programming, leadership, and human behavior.
Yeah, that’s right. The biggest part of the job was talking with students at the CPJ about their relationships with sources, contributors, and each other.
This was my favorite part of the job. Solving technological problems and teaching others to do the same can be rewarding. It can be exciting to launch new features, to solve noisome bugs, and to provide a product that people find useful.
Working with people to solve interpersonal problems, to get to know one another, to hold people accountable, and to wade amongst the murky and confusing signals of perception and intention – that is what truly interests me.
People get in disagreements, whether they are students, faculty, business owners, park rangers, salespeople, dancers, web developers – whatever. And those moments as an advisor where students needed help working out problems with other students or with college staff or faculty – that’s when I felt most useful and most engaged.
The Cooper Point Journal presents a somewhat unique challenge: The website I advised wasn’t mine. It belongs to the students. Their failures and successes are theirs, I only pointed them in the most useful direction I could, and gave resources to help them along the way.
So when a story was really good, I wasn’t about to take credit. When a design flaw messed up the site I would suggest changes, and would help make changes under student direction, but I couldn’t just change things. The website belongs to students, and the decision to make changes is theirs.
This job was perfect for the me of 2030. Maybe?
There has been nothing so difficult as graduating from Evergreen with a B.A. in 2009 and going straight into an advisory role. I wanted production. I wanted to build things, disrupt things, discover things.
I found hobbies, and was able to work with students in a productive way, but to defer decision-making to others that were still learning how to make decisions was difficult.
So over the past three years I’ve learned a kind of humility that I didn’t expect.
I learned that failing is the most wonderful thing someone can do – so long as failure doesn’t mean doing nothing, so long as it means trying new things and evaluating what’s effective. Failure must include experimentation, and a hypothesis must be continually reassessed.
I learned how to put a team first, how to help individuals work together, and I experimented with how best to do that as an advisor.
And I totally failed at it.
Helping a team of people work together is incredibly difficult. I failed over and over, in different ways. I waited too long to talk to people, or was direct in a way that was difficult for others to deal with, or I was too indirect and vague, or I expected other people to handle the situation, or I had emotional reactions to things ina way that undermined my intent, or I was hard on people having emotional reactions to situations. And for each of those failures I’ve done the opposite, too.
I learned from each failure and I’m able to recognize better approaches to situations.
But during the three years I worked as an advisor, I found myself wishing that I was working in that position 10 or 20 years later. I wanted more experience leading a production environment so I could better advise people how to lead their own production environment. I wanted to have 20 years of experience in the field that I was advising so I could feel like I was done, like I had accomplished my goals, so that I didn’t have to evaluate student work and wish that I were working on similar things instead of advising the students doing the work.
I didn’t know what I was talking about.
Today I realized that I was full of shit. I’m now sure that even after 20 years of experience in writing, information gathering, and software development I would still have a hard time watching students fail. And to know that I couldn’t just solve all of a student’s problems for them, that I could only give advice, make strong suggestions, and provide room for them to learn from their mistakes – that will never stop being difficult.
I’ve always thought I should have been a student newspaper advisor at 40, not at 26, that it was weird that I was doing that kind of work so soon. Now I know that being an advisor for three years straight out of college is the best thing I could have done.
I largely put aside my own goals and focused on the well-being of others. I learned how to delegate and defer decision-making, and how to balance the needs and ideas of individuals in a group with leading the team to a common goal. I learned how to not get emotional about failure and difficult situations. I learned patience.
And now that my position as advisor has ended, I’m going to use these skills to start an organization responsibly. What I’ve learned over the past three years about people I may never have learned this well if I hadn’t held the position.
Starting now I work for myself. I will do freelance work and create new publications. I will write open-source software and build a company around that software.
Today I realized that I am wildly hungry for problem-solving. I want to publish my work and the work of others. I want to build wicked cool products. I want to interview people and learn the truth of situations. I want to learn new kinds of production: games, physical computing, and transmedia. I’ve built up a desire to start a company and I’m approaching it with all the unreasonable strength and purpose of a teenager flipping a police car.
Working as an advisor has prepared me for leading an organization in a way I didn’t expect: I learned to give up on the perfection of products and learned to focus effort into the well-being of people.
Learning how to advise a team in a hands-off way is, I think, incredibly useful preparation for building a company comprised of self-directed individuals with a flat decision-making structure.
And if I work as an advisor again in the future, I’ll be able to do so in a way that is not only informed by my experience in the field, but that also iterates on my first job after college: as an advisor.
It was about 8 years ago that I first got a sense for independent publishing. Buds and I started a publication called The Finger in the summer of 2004. That was a long time ago. Since then I’ve been editor in chief of Evergreen’s student newspaper, been an advisor for three school years at the same student newspaper, and experimented with a slew of online and print projects. It’s time for a new experiment, and for something that lasts longer than a few months or a year. Here’s what I’m working on:
Moss Public Press
A startup news & technology organization based in the Pacific Northwest.
As a first project, Nicki Sabalu, Brian Fullerton, and I live-blogged the Seattle Mini Maker Faire, and we’re currently compiling a video of what we saw there.
It was a good first project. We learned about live-blogging, and I got a sense of how I could improve at that. It would be interesting to continue to follow some of the projects that were at the Faire, to go more in-depth on, say, how the Tesla Gun works, or to learn more about the communities that exist at hacker/maker spaces around the area.
When I’ve been explaining Moss Public Press to people, I usually use a sentence like this to describe it: “It’ll be like sassy wood elves founded vice magazine and cared deeply about truth and civics.”
I don’t know what that really means. I’m betting my description of the publication and my goals for it will change over the next few weeks, and those changes will be mostly determined by your input.
Something I know for sure: I’ve done a bunch of short-lived experiments like this over the past few years. I’m feeling super ready to make something stick, and turn it into a job. Let’s do that as a team.
My position at Evergreen as associate advisor to the student newspaper ends after June 29, and I’ll be looking for more contract work starting in July.
To balance contract work with starting a new publication, Moss Public Press. If I can find a part-time job with low hours as a reliable cash-flow while I’m getting started with the freelance work, that would be acceptable.
Why I’m talking about this:
I want to team up with people. Maybe you’re doing freelance work and need someone to help with web-dev tasks. Maybe you’re interested in teaming up on this Moss Public Press adventure. Both of those things would be exciting.
Let me know what you think.
OlyWiki.org is one of the main projects I’ve been working on lately, and it’s at a point where we need new contributors to help out. OlyWiki is a community-authored wiki for Olympia, WA and the surrounding area. Anyone can edit or add pages.
There’s almost 170 pages on the site right now. The goal is 1000 pages by June 1.
We could really use your help.
Here’s a screenshot of the front page of the site:
OlyWiki uses awesome django software called LocalWiki. I made a theme for localwiki using bootstrap’s css/js framework. I’m still making changes to fix small errors and improve the design, and you can follow the progress at github.
The question remains: Why bother at all? Why not just leave the cryptic world of coding to the coders?
As I see it, it’s a bit like the world of cars: You’ll probably be a better owner and driver if you are at least minimally cognizant of what’s happening under the hood. In a world increasingly dependent on technology, our economic productivity - -both individually and collectively — is increasingly incumbent on our ability to interface fluidly with all things tech.
More broadly, these tools demonstrate new models for instruction at a time when our nation faces a growing crisis in our stressed and antiquated education system. Initiatives like Code for America are poised to inspire a generation of students to pursue science with an enthusiasm not equaled since the Space Race of the 1960s…” —
The answer, in part: @CodeforAmerica.(via codeforamerica)
Data visualization magician Hans Rosling, who previously delighted us with such gems as a history of 200 countries over 200 years in 4 minutes and a data-driven meditation on how the washing machine sparked the reading revolution, adds an important voice in the advice choir on how to find your purpose and do what you love.